Parents, resolve your childhood issues before raising kids


RICHARD LAZAROFF, Special to the Jewish Light

Congratulations! I hear you are pregnant.

These are words many are eager to hear, and friends and family enjoy saying it. But after hearing the words out loud, it is time to get down to business and get ready. And task No. 1, if you haven’t already done so, is for you and your partner to take what I call emotional inventory.

What do I mean by this term? Most couples do not focus on their differences when deciding to become a family unit. Rather, they focus on their shared interests, opinions and values. But now, with a child coming, it is important to understand your differences as well.

Some are obvious, such as ethnicity, education and experience with children. Other differences are more subtle: how we were raised and which memories we wish to re-create or avoid for our children.

It is less about whether you experienced a happy childhood. It is more a matter of understanding your childhood and how those memories will translate into your strengths and weaknesses as a parent.

What kind of topics are good to discuss with your partner?

  • What was the role of discipline in your home?
  • Did your whole family sit down together for dinner every night?
  • Was your family active or sedentary?
  • How active were grandparents in your household?
  • Did your family have commitments to local charities?
  • What role did religious education play in your home?
  • Were money and household finances discussed in front of the children?
  • Were feelings expressed, discussed and encouraged, or was conflict denied or ignored?

What if you are raising your child as a single adult?

Find another adult you trust in your life — a family member or a friend — and bounce some of these questions off them. For now, you will not have to be on the same page with a partner, but someday you might, and you’ll be more up to the task if you know yourself and your feelings about your childhood better.

Obviously, this is an incomplete list. Each couple will choose different items to discuss. But I am certain of one thing: Raising a child is an enormous opportunity and responsibility. It must be done with intention.

Studies support taking such inventory and reveal that children of parents who have done so are more often positively attached to their parents. These parents are more capable of continued emotional growth, and respect their children and their later choices. However, when parents undertake the responsibility of raising a child while still harboring “unresolved” issues from their own childhoods, they often do not connect to their children in a healthy manner.

Ultimately, one should strive for a healthy balance between being attached to our children and giving them the opportunity to explore the world independently. While in practice, when I saw families struggling to find this balance, I often found parents with unmanaged fears and anxieties. When their children faced difficult decisions, they often enabled them instead of simply helping. Other times, I found parents who did not meet each other’s emotional needs and chose instead to become enmeshed with their own children. Either of these approaches produced poor outcomes for the children.

Dr. Richard Lazaroff is the author of “Some Assembly Required, A Guide to Savvy Parenting.”

When I saw communication and support done well, I saw parents letting go in a healthy fashion, working together and supporting each other to manage their anxieties while allowing their children enough room to make a few mistakes and grow up.

I think most people assume, between the love they feel for their child and their innate skills as people, that raising a successful child will be easy. It is anything but in my experience. It is imperative to get to know yourself and your partner (if applicable) and to understand each other’s values and upbringing before trying to successfully raise your own child.

Richard Lazaroff is a retired pediatrician who practiced in St. Louis County for nearly 40 years. Married for 42 years, he is the father of two, grandfather of four and the author of “Some Assembly Required, A Guide to Savvy Parenting.” His latest book is the novel “Illumination.”